Hornets – definition

Hornets definition
Correctly understanding these terms leads to a better
understanding of the character of God and the Gospel.

Traditional Legal Model: The stinging insects God said He would use to clear the land of its occupants so that His chosen people, the Israelites, could move in.

 Biblical Healing Model: A metaphor for the “stings” of conscience that would, hopefully, influence the Canaanites to change their ways and, if they would not change, cause them to leave the land.

In the Bible, God told the Israelites that He would “send the hornet” to drive out the Canaanites from the land which would then make that land available for the Israelites to inhabit.

I will send my fear before thee, and will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come, and I will make all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee. And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee.” (Exo 23:27-28)

Note “destroy” (Hebrew “hamam” H2000) is usually translated as “discomfited.

There would be no need to drive them out if “destroyed” meant they were killed.

What was the cause of them being discomfited and driven out?

“After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances.” (Lev 18:3)

Apparently, they did not follow that direction. The following verses list their sins (mostly illicit sexual relations) but also including:

“And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.” (Lev 18:21)

Their sins were such as to cause a reaction in the land itself:

“Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you: And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants.” (Lev 18:24-25)

God told them to be careful to obey and not commit the abominations of the Canaanites or they would suffer the same fate:

“That the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you.” (Lev 18:28)

Those nations were only “spued out” when they reached a certain level of sinfulness:

“But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” (Gen 15:16)

The Amorites were the powerful and dominant tribe of the Canaanites (people who lived in Canaan).

The suggestion is that the land itself where they lived would react in such a way as to drive the people out – like the whole Earth is starting to do now in reaction to the wickedness of modern man.

Note the parallelism in the first passage we read, which is evidence that the hornets are a symbol for fear.

I will send my fear before thee, and will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come, and I will make all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee. And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee.” (Exo 23:27-28)

I will send fear = I will send hornets

fear = hornets

“Send,” in both cases, is “shalach” [H7971] which is often used in the permissive sense.

“And I will set thy bounds from the Red sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river: for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and thou shalt drive them out before thee.” (Exo 23:31)

Who or what is driving them out?

  • “… I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out …” (verse 28)
  • “… thou shalt drive them out before thee.” (verse 31)

Why would the Israelites have to drive them out if the hornets were going to do it? Perhaps it was a two-step process:

God’s part:
I will send my fear/hornets which shall drive out
I will deliver the inhabitants … into your hand
Israel’s part:
thou shalt drive them out

Did fear go before the Israelites as they began to occupy Canaan?

“And she [Rahab] said unto the men, I know that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you.” (Josh 2:9)

Scripture indicates the fear got there before the armies of Israel did:

“There shall no man be able to stand before you: for the LORD your God shall lay the fear of you and the dread of you upon all the land that ye shall tread upon, as he hath said unto you.” (Deut 11:25)

“Now it came to pass, when Adonizedek king of Jerusalem had heard how Joshua had taken Ai, and had utterly destroyed it; as he had done to Jericho and her king, so he had done to Ai and her king; and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel, and were among them;  2  That they feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, as one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all the men thereof were mighty.” (Josh 10:1-2)

I have this idea that the discomfiture, the fear was a response to God smiting their consciences and their failure to respond positively which they could have done. God’s preferred way of doing away with His enemies is to turn them into His friends.

The hornet may be symbolic of something different; what we might call a “psyop,” (a psychological operation or attack).   In God’s case, His mode of “attack” is an appeal to the conscience.

We read this before:

“And I sent the hornet before you, which drave them out from before you, even the two kings of the Amorites; but not with thy sword, nor with thy bow.” (Josh 24:12)

Note that the two kings of the Amorites would be driven out by the hornet and not by the force of Israelite swords. How can it say that? We have the record of history which says that the Israelites warred upon them successfully:

“And Israel smote him with the edge of the sword, and possessed his land from Arnon unto Jabbok, even unto the children of Ammon: for the border of the children of Ammon was strong.” (Num 21:24)

“Him” there is “Sihon, king of the Amorites” (verse 21). Go down further in the chapter:

“So they smote him, and his sons, and all his people [the Amorites], until there was none left him alive: and they possessed his land.” (Num 21:35)

So, then, what does it mean, “but not with thy sword, nor with thy bow”? Following are opinions from two commentaries:

“It seems clear that the signal victory over these kings was not due to the skill of the sword and bow, but rather to the special blessing of God. Hornets, then, seem to be figurative of the assistance God provided to give success to the armies of Israel. The figure is appropriate. As hornets would produce consternation and panic in a camp, so the Lord would send fear, terror, quaking, and confusion into the camp of the nations to unnerve them for battle.” (SDA BC; 2:296)

The emphasis there is to give Israel an advantage in their fighting. Here is another:

“And I will send hornets before thee, … Which may be interpreted either figuratively, and so may signify the same as fear before which should fall on the Canaanites upon hearing the Israelites were coming; the stings of their consciences for their sins, terrors of mind, dreading the wrath of the God of Israel, of whom they had heard, and terrible apprehensions of ruin and destruction from the Israelites:” (Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible)

That commentary suggests the possibility of the stinging of their consciences.

Those people knew that their behavior was contrary to the God of the Israelites, and the approach of the Israelites (with whom the Canaanites would associate the God of Israel) would have had an effect on their consciences.

See a video of a group study on the Biblical meaning of hornets.

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